Friday, December 12, 2008

Rehearsal: Thoughts and Observations on Process from an OHT Intern

We are at the end of week 4 of rehearsal for Astronome: A Night at the Opera, Richard Foreman's new collaboration with avant-garde composer John Zorn. This project is a new challenge for Foreman, in that it is the first time he's tried to create a play that isn't really "his."

Foreman's usual method of creating theatre begins with generating a text. He'll generate many seemingly disconnected strands of dialogue over the course of a few months in a stream-of-thought sort of method. Then he'll collage these pieces of dialogue together into something that seems to make sense to him. He'll bring this along with pre-recorded audio clips, video images, etc into rehearsal and start playing around with it all: trying every thought that comes to mind. The process of his rehearsals are in an ever-constant state of flux. The Ontological-Hysteric staff and interns are there to facilitate Foreman's fantasies. They do their best at creating everything and anything that he calls for, no matter how absurd. Foreman directs his theatre much like a film director edits film: he has all the raw footage already at his disposal from day one, and then he arranges and rearranges the material until it is in an order that pleases him.

However, Astronome is different, because Foreman did not start with a text. In fact, at the moment there exists no text. No film. Only a few sparse voice recordings. The play is to be built around John Zorn's Astronome composition, an experimental, ritualistic death metal album featuring the guttural vocalizations and primal screams of famed singer Mike Patton.

The past 3 weeks have felt more like an eternity. During rehearsal, I often feel as though I have died and found myself in some bizarre purgatory. Nothing about Foreman's rehearsals make any logical sense, except to Foreman of course. It is a treat to watch him direct his actors. Every choice Foreman makes during rehearsal, from the costuming, to the performers' actions, to the stage, prop, and light design, comes completely from intuition. It does not make immediate sense. It may take days to understand why he made a choice, and then again some of things are immediately brilliant (but you can never say quite why).

My favorite part of rehearsal is when Foreman ascends the stage to work out an action or give example. His movements on stage are so genuine and purposeful. I might even go to say that I'd rather watch Foreman on stage than any of his actors. But to say this is would be to go against what Foreman wants his actors to do on stage. He cares little for "theatrical" images, and theatrical acting; that is, images which sole purpose to create an emotion from the spectator. In his first plays he specifically used non-actors, because he enjoyed the awkwardness of it, but then as his plays became more psychologically layered he found the need for more highly skilled actors to convey his thoughts. Today, I think, he uses a mix of both.

A reader of this blog, had commented that his students were annoyed by some of Foreman's work that he had shown in class. I think this is a very common reaction to Foreman's plays. In his early work, the audiences would walk out before intermission, and he'd end up playing to a few weirdos who stuck around. What Richard does is certainly not "theater" in any contemporary Western sense. Richard would be the first to tell you that he "doesn't know how to direct theatre," and that most of what he creates is "lousy." This has become his aesthetic: lousy theatre. Homemade objects, shoddily crafted thing-a-majigs, ugly colors, awkward designs. Like Gertrude Stein, Foreman is more interested in pointing out the syntax of lanuage and creating a new kind of language for his artistic medium.

Everything on Foreman's stage is pointing out this syntax, forcing the audience to be aware of the reality of what they are experiencing. Foreman is a master of distraction and contradiction. He litters his stage with hundreds of props, absurd objects, clashing designs, optical illusions, string, stripes, checks, dots, etc. His lighting designs are brilliantly unconventional, with several giant, ultra bright, soft lights that point at the audience, and flashing strobes that are used both aesthetically and as cues for the performers. He wants to make it impossible for the the audience to get wrapped up in the fiction of the play. Indeed, he is opossed to the kind of theatre that wants you to "feel" something, or empathize with the characters. He is much more interested in creating a psychological experience, in which you are never quite aloud to fully live out the emotions you think you should feel from the action on stage. 

The psychological contradictions that occur sublimely under each action, and each visual and aural element on stage, effect the psyche of the theater-goer in a strange way. The most common of these responses, I think, being annoyance. It's a bit like one's first taste of coffee or liquor: at first the experience is most undesirable, but then you try it again and it's  a little more palatable, and before long you learn to enjoy the flavor if not only for the neurological effects you get from ingesting it. 

It is not an immediate process, there is no instant satisfaction as far as intellectual reason or emotion, it is a kind of something that grows in the mind like an implanted seed, or manifests over time like festering fruit. 

The set design for Astronome gets more and more ornate each day I come into rehearsal. After I've been gone from the theatre for the weekend, I'm always excited to come in on Monday to see all the new changes that have been made. It seems every day there an addition of a new line of string dissecting the theatre in some direction, or another layer of fabric stapled to the walls. The environments that Foreman creates for his actors are truly chaotic, and I think it's his attempt at depicting the world the way it is: multilayered, confusing, conflicting, chaotic...dangerous

At first glance you would think all this ornamentation is haphazard, but then you realize it all is really there for some specific reason when Richard yells a sudden halt to rehearsal and begins tearing down a piece of striped fabric, or small random letters that hang from a string, or removing a small red ping-pong ball that is hardily noticed on stage saying "We simply cannot go on rehearsing!...These kinds of things make a very big difference to those with a sensitive soul." 

And I suppose they do. 

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Ontological-Hysteric Theater: First Week

Let me try and organize my thoughts here:

By here I do mean here as in this blog, but also I mean to say let me organize my thoughts now. Of course I also mean here as in the place I am writing this: a coffee shop.

I have been waiting for what seems like many months in anticipation for my internship with Richard Foreman and the Ontological-Hysteric Theatre. During this period of anticipation i did many things to occupy my time. Many things and not so many things. I rambled about the country via motorcycle visiting friends, family, and strangers. I ended in New York City, making an indefinite home in Brooklyn.

My first 3 weeks were miserable. I wanted very much to transport my self back to the West. I came into the city with little more than $45 dollars cash in my pocket and whole lot of increasing credit card debt. I had no home and no job. The first 2 weeks seemed to last months. I was constantly stressed out and worried about finding housing, food, and a job. Looking back now it doesn't seem that long. Hell, I found a place to live and work in only 3 weeks.

I now work at a nice little espresso bar in Forte Greene somewhat near my apartment. With my internship I will be working 60 hours a week: 40 at the theatre and 20 at the coffee shop. Guess which one I actually get paid for?

So I've been waiting, and working. And the first day finally arrived. I woke up and it was time. Only a little nervous. I was more afraid that I'd be working with a bunch of pretentious rich kids. And while most of them certainly are coming from rich families, I was pleased to find that I'll be working with more genuine people than I expected. I guess it makes sense: what kind of people are attracted to Foreman's work? And are willing to give their free time to help make his visions reality.

It turns out through some series of events that I happened to be one of these people; though, I couldn't exactly tell you why or how: it all just happened. Of course there was more to it, but looking at it from a distance...

Does anyone know why anything happens?

I have found myself here. Not to say I have found myself, but more to say that I have litterally found myself here. And what a pleasant surprise, and what an unusual place, and what a unique opportunity. I am excited.

The theater itself inhabits the loft of the St. Marks Cathedral in the East Village. It is everything I could have imagined. Small, intimate, almost make-shift. The theatre staff is comprised off 5 people, all friendly, genuine, caring, and passionate people. They work hard and love what they do. I hope to learn much from them on that mode of living. I only briefly met Richard, as rehearsals have not yet started.

The first two weeks are load-in: in which time we construct the set, costumes, and props, so that everything is fully ready to go by the first day of rehearsal. Richard runs every rehearsal like a full dress rehearsal. That means every element must be at performance level. This is becuase Richard likes to start with everything from the very beginning. He puts all ideas right out in the open and physically works through them during the 8 weeks of rehearsal.

We were warned: NOTHING IS SACRED (and everything is sacred)! Even though we spend all this time, craft, effort, material, and money on a prop, costume, sound design, or set, none of it is sacred. In fact, half it will be thrown out, changed, modified or not even used for the final performance. Richard Foreman's method of creating a play is unique in that it all comes out of the process. We were told that we will get to see many different versions of the play, since it will be in constant evolution. Something that the technical director said that I found interesting was that even though during the early rehearsals a certain point in the play a large object might be shook loudly, and in the final version it is replaced with a silent moment, the energy of the initial action is still remains present. It got me to thinking about the reverberation of energy in a space, and how that it can exist both in a specific moment in time and eternally.

Richard plays typically involve hundreds of props and objects: he is a master of distraction. The prop list is quite amusing calling for odd numbers of odd objects, such as 3 red ping pong balls, a giant green lightbulb, 4 rolling pins, a giant fish that knitting needles can be stuck into, etc. The list as of now is literally 3 pages long, and it will only grow throughout rehearsal.

I speak more in depth about Foreman's method once we actually begin rehearsals, so I won't try to explain any of it now. Not here.

I suppose this whole blog thing should be more about me: my experience, my impressions of this process.

Well. In the past week I've had many thoughts. I should try to write these down through out the day as they come, because now of course I can't remember any.

I have thought constantly about what will happen after the internship, and after that, and after that, but then I try to bring myself back to the moment. I try to focus only what is immediately in front of me.

But will a stick around in New York? Let's just say I have a gut feeling that tells me that this town is going to suck me into it for at least a few years. And that might be ok. Even though my heart sits in the cold Portland water.

Do I want to be an actor still? ? ? Theater. Film. ? ? ? Oh I don't know. It all seems like so much work to get there. But then maybe if I keeping living the way I'm living it will all just happen like everything else just seems to happen. Of course I know nothing really just happens: I work hard for things. But again things do also just happen at the same time. Looking back at it.

What if I get the chance to actually work in theatre. It would be a busy life, working multiple jobs, multiple theaters, making all those connections, networking, blah, blah...

I have to focus on the moment, I can't think about all of that. It isn't healthy. I forget to breathe.

I will end this post with something I found to ring true while reading Foreman's Unbalancing Acts. What he said seemed to settle my dilemma about wanting to hurriedly move back to the Northwest as soon as possible. It is Foreman's reason for living in New York, and also one reason why he produces his art.

"Obvioulsy, if you choose to inhabit a nice, comfortable environment, it's quite easy to feel at one within yourself. The challenge is to find that point of stillness in the midst of the storm--within the depths of the negative hyper-energy that characterizes the worst of contemporary Western urban life."

Friday, August 22, 2008

It's been a while

I feel lazy, because I have posted nothing new in quite some time. For those of you who might happen to read this, I'll give you a brief run down of what I've been up to.

First off, the project in winter was a huge success! It evolved into a one-hour stage performance that synthesized all of my street pieces plus some others. It was called "Human Resources" and was performed at the Evergreen State College on March 14th. The only part of the production that wasn't a success, unfortunately, was the documentation. I was so busy doing every other aspect of the production that I had very little energy or time to properly document the process with pictures and video. My camera man dropped out on me at the last moment before the show, and I so I set up two static cameras, but then only one of them got turned on. I haven't even watched it, I'm so depressed about it.

Nevertheless, the performance was fantastic. Thank you to all who helped. It was an amazing experience, and the images that were created will not soon be forgotten. Now the only thing left to do, is to transcribe the performance score, in hopes of getting it produced for a future production.

In the Spring I traveled to Istanbul, Turkey. There I met with artist Ismet Dogan, who commissioned me to create a performance for him and his friends in his studio in Beyoglu. I collaborted with Mariah Barrett and Halil Ildeniz on this 30 minute peice. There is a video floating around somewhere in Turkey of this performace, and when I get a hold of it I will most definately post it.

More good news is that I got an internship with Richard Foreman and his Ontoligical-Hysteric Theatre in New York City. My Internship starts in November, and I'll be sure to keep this blog updated during that time.

I'm currently en route to New York via motorcycle. I've been meandering across the country since early July.

I can't wait to get a new project under my feet. The anxiety of feeling worthless and lazy is becoming too great.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Winter Project

This winter Jamie and I are creating an experimental stage performance. We have synthesized my past 6 performances into one inclusive piece. We are taking the images of the past performances, which where created for site-specific public locations, and translating them to the stage. I have applied for a grant, and will find out week 4 just how much funding this project is going to have. The performance will be on March 14 and will be invitation only. I will post sketches, sounds and pictures of works in progress as they materialize.